Carmichael organizing for the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in 1966
|4th Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee|
May 1966 – June 1967
|Preceded by||John Lewis|
|Succeeded by||H. Rap Brown|
June 29, 1941|
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
November 15, 1998 (aged 57)|
(m. 1968; div. 1973)
Marlyatou Barry (divorced)
|Education||The Bronx High School of Science (1960)|
(B.A., Philosophy, 1964)
Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael, June 29, 1941 – November 15, 1998) was a Trinidadian-born prominent organizer in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the global Pan-African movement. Born in Trinidad, he grew up in the United States from the age of 11 and became an activist while attending Howard University. He eventually developed the Black Power movement, first while leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), later serving as the "Honorary Prime Minister" of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and lastly as a leader of the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP).
Carmichael was one of the original SNCC freedom riders of 1961 under Diane Nash's leadership. He became a major voting rights activist in Mississippi and Alabama after being mentored by Ella Baker and Robert Parris Moses. Like most young people in SNCC, he became disillusioned with the two-party system after the 1964 Democratic National Convention failed to recognize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as official delegates from the state. Carmichael chose to develop independent black political organizations, such as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization and, for a time, the national Black Panther Party. Inspired by Malcolm X's example, he articulated a philosophy of "black power," and popularized it both by provocative speeches and more sober writings. Carmichael became one of the most popular and controversial Black leaders of the late 1960s. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, secretly identified Carmichael as the man most likely to succeed Malcolm X as America's "black messiah." The FBI targeted him for personal destruction through its COINTELPRO program, and Carmichael fled to Africa in 1968. He re-established himself in Ghana, and then Guinea by 1969, where he adopted the new name of Kwame Ture.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 1961: Freedom Rides
- 3 1964–67: SNCC
- 4 1967–68: Transition out of SNCC
- 5 1969–98: Travel to Africa
- 6 Illness and death
- 7 Personal life
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Controversies
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Early life and education
Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Stokely Carmichael attended Tranquility School there before moving to Harlem, New York, in 1952 at the age of 11, to rejoin his parents. They had immigrated to the United States when he was age two, and he was raised by his grandmother and two aunts. He had three sisters.
His mother, Mabel R. Carmichael, was a stewardess for a steamship line. His father, Adolphus, was a carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver. The reunited Carmichael family eventually left Harlem to live in Van Nest in the East Bronx, at that time an aging neighborhood with residents who were primarily Jewish and Italian immigrants and descendants. According to a 1967 interview Carmichael gave to Life Magazine, he was the only black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang involved in alcohol and petty theft. He and his family were members of the Westchester United Methodist Church.
Carmichael attended the Bronx High School of Science in New York, being selected through high achievement on its standardized entrance examination. While at Bronx Science, he participated in a boycott of a local White Castle restaurant, which did not hire blacks. On student recognition Sunday at his church, Carmichael gave an eye-opening student sermon to the almost totally white congregation. Carmichael was acquainted with fellow Bronx Science student Samuel R. Delany during his time there.
After graduation in 1960, Carmichael enrolled at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.. His professors included Sterling Brown, Nathan Hare, and Toni Morrison, a young writer who later won the Nobel Prize for literature. Carmichael and Tom Kahn, a Jewish-American student and civil-rights activist, helped to fund a five-day run of the Three Penny Opera, by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill:
Tom Kahn—very shrewdly—had captured the position of Treasurer of the Liberal Arts Student Council and the infinitely charismatic and popular Carmichael as floor whip was good at lining up the votes. Before they knew what hit them the Student Council had become a patron of the arts, having voted to buy out the remaining performances. It was a classic win/win. Members of the Council got patronage packets of tickets for distribution to friends and constituents.
Carmichael's apartment on Euclid Street was a gathering place for his activist classmates. He graduated in 1964 with a degree in philosophy. Carmichael was offered a full graduate scholarship to Harvard University but turned it down.
While at Howard, Carmichael had joined the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), the Howard campus affiliate of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Kahn introduced Carmichael and the other SNCC activists to Bayard Rustin, an African-American leader who became an influential adviser to SNCC. Inspired by the sit-in movement in the southern United States during college, Carmichael became more active in the Civil Rights Movement.
1961: Freedom Rides
In his first year at the university, in 1961, Carmichael participated in the Freedom Rides that the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized to desegregate the interstate buses and bus station restaurants along U.S. Route 40 between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., as they came under federal rather than state law. They had been segregated by custom. He was frequently arrested, and spent time in jail. He was arrested so many times for his activism that he lost count, sometimes estimating at least 29 or 32. In 1998, he told the Washington Post that he thought the total was fewer than 36.
Along with eight other riders, on June 4, 1961, Carmichael traveled by train from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Jackson, Mississippi, to integrate the formerly "white" section on the train. Before getting on the train in New Orleans, they encountered white protestors blocking the way. Carmichael says: "They were shouting. Throwing cans and lit cigarettes at us. Spitting on us." Eventually, the group was able to board the train. When the group arrived in Jackson, Carmichael and the eight other riders entered a "white" cafeteria. They were charged with disturbing the peace, arrested, and taken to jail.
Eventually, Carmichael was transferred to the infamous Parchman Farm in Sunflower County, Mississippi, along with other Freedom Riders. He gained notoriety for being a witty and hard-nosed leader among the prisoners.
He served 49 days with other activists at the Parchman State Prison Farm. At 19, Carmichael was the youngest detainee in the summer of 1961. He spent 53 days at Parchman Farm in "a six-by-nine cell. Twice a week to shower. No books, nothing to do. They would isolate us. Maximum security."
Carmichael said about the Parchman Farm sheriff:
The sheriff acted like he was scared of black folks and he came up with some beautiful things. One night he opened up all the windows, put on ten big fans and an air conditioner and dropped the temperature to 38 degrees [Fahrenheit; 3 °C]. All we had on was T-shirts and shorts.
While being hurt one time, Carmichael began singing to the guards, "I'm gonna tell God how you treat me," to which the rest of the prisoners joined in.
Carmichael kept the group's morale up while in prison, often telling jokes with Steve Green and the other Freedom Riders, and making light of their situation. He knew their situation was serious.
What with the range of ideology, religious belief, political commitment and background, age, and experience, something interesting was always going on. Because no matter our differences, this group had one thing in common, moral stubbornness. Whatever we believed, we really believed and were not at all shy about advancing. We were where we were only because of our willingness to affirm our beliefs even at the risk of physical injury. So it was never dull on death row.
In a 1964 interview with author Robert Penn Warren, Carmichael reflected on his motives for going on the rides, saying,
I thought I have to go because you've got to keep the issue alive, and you've got to show the Southerners that you're not gonna be scared off, as we've been scared off in the past. And no matter what they do, we're still gonna keep coming back.
Mississippi and Cambridge, Maryland
In 1964, Carmichael became a full-time field organizer for SNCC in Mississippi. He worked on the Greenwood voting rights project under Robert Parris Moses. Throughout Freedom Summer, he worked with grassroots African-American activists, including Fannie Lou Hamer, whom Carmichael named as one of his personal heroes. SNCC organizer Joann Gavin wrote that Hamer and Carmichael "understood one another as perhaps no one else could."
He also worked closely with Gloria Richardson, who led the SNCC chapter in Cambridge, Maryland. During a protest with Richardson in Maryland in June 1964, Carmichael was hit directly in a chemical gas attack by the National Guard and had to be hospitalized.
He soon became project director for Mississippi's 2nd congressional district, made up largely of the counties of the Mississippi Delta. At that time, most blacks in Mississippi had been disenfranchised since passage of a new constitution in 1890. The summer project was to prepare them to register to vote and to conduct a parallel registration movement to demonstrate how much people wanted to vote. Grassroots activists organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), as the regular Democratic Party did not represent African Americans in the state. At the end of Freedom Summer, Carmichael went to the 1964 Democratic Convention in support of the MFDP, which sought to have its delegation seated. But, the MFDP delegates were refused voting rights by the Democratic National Committee, who chose to seat the regular white Jim Crow delegation. Carmichael, along with many SNCC staff members, left the convention with a profound sense of disillusionment in the American political system, and what he later called "totalitarian liberal opinion."
Selma to Montgomery marches
Having developed aversion to working with the Democratic Party after the 1964 convention experience, Carmichael decided to leave the MFDP. Instead he began exploring SNCC projects in Alabama in 1965. During the period of the Selma to Montgomery Marches, he was recruited by James Forman to participate in a "second front" to stage protests at the Alabama State Capitol in March 1965. Carmichael became disillusioned with the growing struggles between SNCC and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who opposed Forman's strategy. He thought SCLC was working with affiliated black churches to undercut it. He was also frustrated to be drawn again into nonviolent confrontations with police, which he no longer found empowering. After seeing protesters brutally beaten again, he collapsed from stress, and his colleagues urged him to leave the city.
Within a week, Carmichael returned to protesting, this time in Selma, to participate in the final march along Route 80 to the state capital. He initiated a grassroots project in "Bloody Lowndes" County, along the march route. This was a county known for white violence against blacks during this era, where SCLC and Dr. King had tried and failed to organize its black residents. In the period from 1877 to 1950, Lowndes County had 14 documented lynchings of African Americans.
Lowndes County Freedom Organization
In 1965, working as a SNCC activist in the black-majority Lowndes County, Carmichael helped to increase the number of registered black voters from 70 to 2,600—300 more than the number of registered white voters. Black voters had essentially been disfranchised by Alabama's constitution passed by white Democrats in 1901. After Congressional passage in August of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the federal government was authorized to oversee and enforce their rights. But there was still tremendous resistance by whites in the area, which endangered activists. Black residents and voters organized and widely supported the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a party that had the black panther as its mascot, over the white-dominated local Democratic Party, whose mascot was a white rooster. Since federal protection from violent voter suppression by the Ku Klux Klan and other white opponents was sporadic, most Lowndes County activists openly carried arms.
Although black residents and voters outnumbered whites in Lowndes, their candidate lost the county-wide election of 1965. In 1966, several LCFO candidates ran for office in the general election but failed to win. In 1970, the LCFO merged with the statewide Democratic Party, and former LCFO candidates won their first offices in the county.
Chair of SNCC and Black Power
Carmichael became chairman of SNCC in 1966, taking over from John Lewis, an activist who later was elected to the US Congress, and has served since then. James Meredith had initiated a solitary March Against Fear in early June of that year from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. He did not want the big civil rights organizations or leaders involved, but was willing to have individual black men join him. On his second day out, Meredith was shot and wounded by a white sniper, and had to be hospitalized. Civil rights leaders vowed to finish the march in his name.
Carmichael joined Martin Luther King Jr., Floyd McKissick, Cleveland Sellers and others to continue Meredith's march. He was arrested in Greenwood during the march. After his release, he gave his first "Black Power" speech at a rally that night, using the phrase to urge black pride and socio-economic independence:
It is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.
According to historian David J. Garrow, a few days after Carmichael spoke about "Black Power" slogan at the rally during "Meredith March Against Fear," he reportedly told King: "Martin, I deliberately decided to raise this issue on the march in order to give it a national forum and force you to take a stand for Black Power." King responded, "I have been used before. One more time won't hurt."[page needed]
While Black Power was not a new concept, Carmichael's speech brought it into the spotlight. It became a rallying cry for young African Americans across the country who were frustrated about slow progress in civil rights, even after federal legislation had been passed to strengthen the effort. Everywhere that Black Power spread, if accepted, credit was given to the prominent Carmichael. If the concept was condemned, he was held responsible and blamed. According to Carmichael: "Black Power meant black people coming together to form a political force and either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak to their needs [rather than relying on established parties]". Strongly influenced by the work of Frantz Fanon and his landmark book The Wretched of the Earth, along with others such as Malcolm X, Carmichael led SNCC to become more radical. The group focused on Black Power as its core goal and ideology.
During the controversial Atlanta Project in 1966, SNCC, under the local leadership of Bill Ware, engaged in a voter drive to promote the candidacy of Julian Bond from an Atlanta district for a seat in the Georgia State Legislature. Ware excluded Northern white SNCC members from working on this drive. Initially, Carmichael opposed him and voted against this decision, but eventually changed his mind. At the urging of the Atlanta Project, the issue of whites being members in SNCC came up for a vote. Carmichael ultimately sided with those calling for the expulsion of whites. He said that whites should organize poor white southern communities, of which there were plenty, while SNCC focused on promoting African-American self-reliance through Black Power.
Carmichael considered nonviolence to be a tactic, as opposed to an underlying principle, which separated him from civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Carmichael criticized civil rights leaders who called for the integration of African Americans into existing institutions of the middle-class mainstream.
Now, several people have been upset because we've said that integration was irrelevant when initiated by blacks, and that in fact it was a subterfuge, an insidious subterfuge, for the maintenance of white supremacy. Now we maintain that in the past six years or so, this country has been feeding us a "thalidomide drug of integration," and that some Negroes have been walking down a dream street talking about sitting next to white people; and that that does not begin to solve the problem; that when we went to Mississippi we did not go to sit next to Ross Barnett; we did not go to sit next to Jim Clark; we went to get them out of our way; and that people ought to understand that; that we were never fighting for the right to integrate, we were fighting against white supremacy. Now, then, in order to understand white supremacy we must dismiss the fallacious notion that white people can give anybody their freedom. No man can give anybody his freedom. A man is born free. You may enslave a man after he is born free, and that is in fact what this country does. It enslaves black people after they're born, so that the only acts that white people can do is to stop denying black people their freedom; that is, they must stop denying freedom. They never give it to anyone.
During Carmichael's leadership, SNCC continued to maintain a coalition with several white radical organizations, most notably Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It encouraged the SDS to focus on militant anti-draft resistance. At an SDS-organized conference at UC Berkeley in October 1966, Carmichael challenged the white left to escalate their resistance to the military draft in a manner similar to the black movement. For a time in 1967, Carmichael considered an alliance with Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation, and generally supported IAF's work in Rochester's and Buffalo's black communities.
SNCC conducted its first actions against the military draft and the Vietnam War under Carmichael's leadership. Carmichael popularized the oft-repeated anti-draft slogan, "Hell no-We won't go!" during this time.
Carmichael encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to demand an unconditional withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam, even as some King advisers cautioned him that such opposition might have an adverse effect on financial contributions to the SCLC. King preached one of his earliest speeches calling for unconditional withdrawal with Carmichael seated in the front row at his invitation. Carmichael privately took credit for pushing King towards anti-imperialism, and historians such as Dr. Peniel Joseph and Eric Dyson agree.
Carmichael joined King in New York on April 15, 1967, to share his views with protesters on race related to the Vietnam War:
The draft exemplifies as much as racism the totalitarianism which prevails in this nation in the disguise of consensus democracy. The President has conducted war in Vietnam without the consent of Congress or the American people, without the consent of anybody except maybe Lady Bird.
1967–68: Transition out of SNCC
|Part of the Politics series on|
Stepping down as chair
In May 1967, Carmichael stepped down as chairman of SNCC and was replaced by H. Rap Brown. SNCC was a collective and worked by group consensus rather than hierarchically; many members had become displeased with Carmichael's celebrity status. SNCC leaders had begun to refer to him as "Stokely Starmichael" and criticize his habit of making policy announcements independently, before achieving internal agreement. According to historian Clayborne Carson, Carmichael did not protest the transfer of power and was "eager to relinquish the chair." It is sometimes mistakenly reported that Carmichael left SNCC completely at this time and joined the Black Panther Party, but those events did not occur until 1968. SNCC officially ended its relationship with Carmichael in August 1968; in a statement, Philip Hutchings wrote, "It has been apparent for some time that SNCC and Stokely Carmichael were moving in different directions."
Targeted by FBI COINTELPRO
During this period, Carmichael was targeted by a section of J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) which focused on black activists; the program promoted slander and violence against targets whom Hoover considered to be enemies of the US government. It attempted to discredit them and worse. Carmichael accepted the position of Honorary Prime Minister in the Black Panther Party, but also remained on the staff of SNCC. He tried to forge a merger between the two organizations. A March 4, 1968 memo from Hoover states his fear of the rise of a black nationalist "messiah" and said that Carmichael alone had the "necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way." In July 1968, Hoover stepped up his efforts to divide the black power movement. Declassifed documents show he launched a plan to undermine the SNCC-Panther merger, as well as to "bad-jacket" Carmichael as a CIA agent. Both efforts were largely successful: Carmichael was expelled from SNCC that year, and the rival Panthers began to denounce him, putting him at grave personal risk.
After stepping down as SNCC chair, Carmichael wrote the book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation (1967) with Charles V. Hamilton, while clarifying his thinking. It is a first-person reflection on his experiences in SNCC and his dissatisfaction with the direction of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. Throughout the work he directly and indirectly criticizes the established leadership of the SCLC and NAACP for their tactics and results, often claiming that they were accepting symbols instead of change.
He promoted what he calls "political modernization." This idea included three major concepts: "1) questioning old values and institutions of the society; 2) searching for new and different forms of political structure to solve political and economic problems; and, 3) broadening the base of political participation to include more people in the decision-making process". By questioning "old values and institutions", Carmichael was referring not only to the established Black leadership of the time, but also to the values and institutions of the nation as a whole. He criticized the emphasis on the American "middle-class." "The values," he said, "of that class are based on material aggrandizement, not the expansion of humanity." (40) Carmichael believed that blacks were being lured to enter the "middle-class" as a trap, in which they would be assimilated into the white world by turning their backs on others of their race who were still suffering. This assimilation, he thought, was an inherent indictment of blackness and validation of whiteness as the preferred state. He said, "Thus we reject the goal of assimilation into middle-class America because the values of that class are in themselves anti-humanist and because that class as a social force perpetuates racism."
Secondly, Carmichael discussed searching for different forms of political structure to solve political and economic problems. At the time, the established forms of political structure were the SCLC and the NAACP. These groups were religiously and academically based and focused their attention on the concepts of non-violence and steady legal and legislative change, situated within the established systems and structures of the United States. Carmichael rejected these ideas, basing his assertions on his lived experience. He explores the development of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, the 1966 local election in Lowndes County, AL, and the political history of the town of Tuskegee. He chose these examples as places where blacks changed the system by way of political and legal maneuvering within the system. But Carmichael said that they ultimately failed to achieve more than the bare minimum change. In the process, he believed they reinforced the political and legal structures that were perpetuating the racism they were fighting.
In response to these failures and to offer a way forward, Carmichael discussed the concept of coalition with regard to the Civil Rights Movement. The leadership of the movement had affirmed that anyone who truly believed in their cause was welcome to join and march. Carmichael offered a different vision. Influenced by the ideas of Franz Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, wherein two groups were not "complementary" (could have no overlap) until they were mutually exclusive (were on an equal power footing economically, socially, politically, etc.), Carmichael said that blacks in the United States had to unite and build their power independent of the white structure. Otherwise they would never be able to build a coalition that would function for both parties, not just the dominant one. He said that "we want to establish the grounds on which we feel political coalitions can be viable." For this to happen, Carmichael argued that blacks had to address three myths regarding coalition. First, "that the interests of black people are identical with the interests of certain liberal, labor, or other reform groups." Second, that a viable coalition can be created between "the politically and economically secure and the politically and economically insecure." And third, that a coalition can be "sustained on a moral, friendly, sentimental basis; by appeals to conscience." He believed that each of these myths showed the need for two groups to be mutually exclusive, and on relatively equal footing, for them to be in a viable coalition.
This philosophy, grounded in the independence literature of Africa and Latin America (Fanon), became the basis for a great deal of Carmichael's work. He believed that the Black Power Movement had to be developed outside the white power structure.
He also continued as a strong critic of the Vietnam War, and imperialism in general. During this period he traveled and lectured extensively throughout the world; visiting Guinea, North Vietnam, China, and Cuba. Carmichael became more clearly identified with the Black Panther Party as its "Honorary Prime Minister." During this period, he acted more as a speaker than an organizer, traveling throughout the country and internationally advocating for his vision of Black Power.
The death of Che Guevara places a responsibility on all revolutionaries of the World to redouble their decision to fight on to the final defeat of Imperialism. That is why in essence Che Guevara is not dead, his ideas are with us.
Carmichael visited the United Kingdom in July 1967 to attend the Dialectics of Liberation conference. After recordings of his speeches were released by the organizers, the Institute of Phenomenological Studies, he was banned from re-entering Britain. In August 1967, a Cuban government magazine reported that Carmichael met with Fidel Castro for three days and called it "the most educational, most interesting, and the best apprenticeship of [my] public life." Because relations with Cuba were prohibited at the time, after his return to the US, the government withdrew his passport. In December 1967, he traveled to France to attend an antiwar rally. There, he was detained by police and ordered to leave the next day, but government officials eventually intervened and allowed him to stay.
1968 D.C. riots
Carmichael was present in Washington, D.C. the night after King's assassination in April 1968. He led a group through the streets, demanding that businesses close out of respect. Although he tried to prevent violence, the situation escalated beyond his control. Due to his reputation as a provocateur, the news media blamed Carmichael for the ensuing violence as mobs rioted along U Street and other areas of black commercial development.
Carmichael held a press conference the next day, at which he predicted mass racial violence in the streets. Since moving to Washington, D.C., Carmichael had been under nearly constant surveillance by the FBI. After the eruption of riots, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover instructed a team of agents to find evidence connecting Carmichael to these events. He was also subjected to COINTELPRO's bad-jacketing technique. Huey P. Newton suggested Carmichael was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent, a slander that led to Carmichael's break with the Panthers, and his exile from the U.S. the following year.
1969–98: Travel to Africa
Carmichael soon began to distance himself from the Panthers. He disagreed with them about whether white activists should be allowed to participate in the movement. The Panthers believed that white activists could help the movement, while Carmichael had come to agree with Malcolm X, and said that the white activists should organize their own communities first.
In 1968, he married Miriam Makeba, a noted singer from South Africa. They left the US for Guinea the next year. Carmichael became an aide to the Guinean president Ahmed Sékou Touré, and a student of the exiled Ghanaian president-for-life Kwame Nkrumah. Makeba was appointed Guinea's official delegate to the United Nations. Three months after his arrival in Guinea, in July 1969, Carmichael published a formal rejection of the Black Panthers, condemning them for not being separatist enough and for their "dogmatic party line favoring alliances with white radicals".
Carmichael changed his name to "Kwame Ture", to honor the African leaders Nkrumah and Touré, who had become his patrons. At the end of his life, friends still referred to him interchangeably by both names, "and he doesn't seem to mind".
Carmichael's suspicions about the CIA were affirmed in 2007, when previously secret CIA documents were declassified, revealing that the agency had tracked Carmichael from 1968 as part of their surveillance of black activists abroad. The surveillance continued for years.
Carmichael remained in Guinea after separation from the Black Panther Party. He continued to travel, write, and speak in support of international leftist movements. In 1971 he published his collected essays in a second book, Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism. This book expounds an explicitly socialist, Pan-African vision, which he retained for the rest of his life. From the late 1970s until the day he died, he answered his phone by announcing, "Ready for the revolution!"
In 1986, two years after Sékou Touré's death in 1984, the military regime that took his place arrested Carmichael, for his past association with Touré, and jailed him for three days on suspicion of attempting to overthrow the government. Although Touré was known for jailing and torturing his opponents (some 50,000 people are believed to have been killed under his regime) Carmichael had never publicly criticized the man he had named himself after.
All-African People's Revolutionary Party
|"Life and Career of Kwame Ture", C-SPAN|
For the final 30 years of his life, Kwame Ture was devoted to the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP). His mentor Kwame Nkrumah had many ideas for unifying the African continent, and Ture used those ideas in a broader scope involving the entire African diaspora. He was a central committee member for the entire time that he participated in the A-APRP and made many speeches in the Party's behalf.
Ture did not simply study with Sékou Touré and Kwame Nkrumah. The latter had been designated honorary co-president of Guinea after he was deposed by the US-backed coup in Ghana. Ture worked overtly and covertly to "Take Nkrumah Back to Ghana" (according to the movement's slogan). He became a member of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), the revolutionary ruling party of Guinea. He sought Nkrumah's permission to launch the All-African People's Revolutionary Party (A-APRP), which Nkrumah had called for in his book Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare. After several discussions, Nkrumah gave his blessing.
Ture was convinced that the A-APRP was needed as a permanent mass-based organization on all continents and in all countries in which people of African descent lived. For the remainder of his life, a period often ignored by popular media, Ture worked for decades on a full-time basis as an "organizer" of the Party. He spoke on its behalf on several continents at innumerable college campuses, in community centers, and other venues. He was instrumental in strengthening ties between the African/Black liberation movement and several revolutionary or progressive organizations, both African and non-African. Notable among them were the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the United States, New Jewel Movement (Grenada), National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) of Trinidad and Tobago, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Pan Africanist Congress (South Africa) and the Irish Republican Socialist Party.
Routinely, Ture was regarded as the leader of the A-APRP, but his only title was "Organizer", and he was a member of the Central Committee. Beginning in the mid-1970s, the A-APRP began each May to sponsor African Liberation Day (ALD), a continuation of African Freedom Day begun by Kwame Nkrumah in 1958 in Ghana. Although the party was involved in or was primary or co-sponsor of other ALD annual observances, marches and rallies around the world, the best-known and largest celebration of the event was held annually in Washington, DC, usually at Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park) at 16th and W Streets, NW.
While based in Guinea as home, Ture traveled a good part of the time. Britain and his birth country, Trinidad and Tobago, barred him from speaking at one time or another for fear that he would arouse African-descended people in those countries. In the last quarter of the 20th century, Ture became the world's most active and prominent exponent of pan-Africanism, defined by Nkrumah and the A-APRP as "The Liberation and Unification of Africa Under Scientific Socialism."
Ture often returned to speak to large (1,000+) audiences at his alma mater, Howard University, which generally included students and community residents, and at other campuses. The Party worked to recruit students and other youth, and Ture hoped to attract them through his speeches. He also worked to raise the political consciousness of African/Black people in general. Shortly after the A-APRP was formed, he said that an initial goal was to put "Africa" on the lips of Black people throughout the African Diaspora. He knew that many may not have consciously related to the continent in a positive way after generations away. Ture was convinced, according to those who worked closely with him, that the party played a significant role in helping to raise international black consciousness of Pan-Africanism.
Under his leadership, the A-APRP organized the All African Women's Revolutionary Union and the Sammy Younge Jr. Brigade (named after the first black college student to die during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement) as component organizations.
Ture and Cuba's president Fidel Castro were mutual admirers, sharing a common opposition to imperialism. In Ture's final letter, he wrote:
It was Fidel Castro who before the OLAS (Organization of Latin American States) Conference said "if imperialism touches one grain of hair on his head, we shall not let the fact pass without retaliation." It was he, who on his own behalf, asked them all to stay in contact with me when I returned to the United States to offer me protection.
Ture was ill when he gave his final speech at Howard University. A standing-room-only crowd in Rankin Chapel paid tribute to him and he spoke boldly, as usual. A small group of student leaders from Howard University and a former Party member traveled to Harlem (Sugar Hill) in New York City to bid farewell to Kwame Ture shortly before what was his final return to Guinea. Also present that evening were Kathleen Cleaver and another Black Panther, Dhoruba bin Wahad. Ture was in good spirits though in pain. The group bidding farewell to Kwame Ture included African/Black men and women born in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and the USA.
Illness and death
After his diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1996, Ture was treated for a period in Cuba, while receiving some support from the Nation of Islam. Benefit concerts for Ture were held in Denver; New York; Atlanta; and Washington, D.C., to help defray his medical expenses. The government of Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born, awarded him a grant of $1,000 a month for the same purpose. He went to New York, where he was treated for two years at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, before returning to Guinea.
In a final interview given in April 1998 to The Washington Post, Ture had criticized the limited economic and electoral progress made by African Americans in the U.S. during the previous 30 years. He acknowledged that blacks had won election to the mayor's office in major cities, but said that, as the mayors' power had generally diminished over earlier decades, such progress was essentially meaningless.
|"Memorial Service for Kwame Ture", C-SPAN|
In 1998 Ture died of prostate cancer at the age of 57 in Conakry, Guinea. He had said that his cancer "was given to me by forces of American imperialism and others who conspired with them." He claimed that the FBI had infected him with cancer in an assassination attempt.
The civil rights leader Jesse Jackson spoke in celebration of Ture's life, stating: "He was one of our generation who was determined to give his life to transforming America and Africa. He was committed to ending racial apartheid in our country. He helped to bring those walls down". NAACP Chair Julian Bond said that Carmichael "ought to be remembered for having spent almost every moment of his adult life trying to advance the cause of black liberation."
Carmichael had married Miriam Makeba, the noted singer from South Africa, while in the US in 1968. They divorced in Guinea after separating in 1973.
Later he married Marlyatou Barry, a Guinean doctor. They divorced some time after having a son, Bokar, in 1981. By 1998, Marlyatou Barry and Bokar were living in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, DC. Relying on a statement from the All-African People's Revolutionary Party, Carmichael's 1998 obituary in The New York Times referred to his survivors as two sons, three sisters, and his mother, without further details.
Kwame Ture, along with Charles V. Hamilton, is credited with coining the phrase "institutional racism"---defined as racism that occurs through institutions such as public bodies and corporations, including universities. In the late 1960s Ture defined "institutional racism" as "the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin."
In his book on Martin Luther King, Jr., David J. Garrow criticized Ture's handling of the Black Power movement as "more destructive than constructive." Garrow described the period in 1966 where Ture and other members of the SNCC managed to successfully register 2,600 African American voters in Lowndes County, Alabama, as the most consequential period in Ture's life "in terms of real, positive, tangible influence on people's lives." Evaluations from Ture's associates are also mixed, with most praising his efforts and others criticizing him for failing to find constructive ways to achieve his objectives. SNCC's final Chair, Phil Hutchings, who expelled Ture over a dispute concerning the Black Panther Party, wrote that, "Even though we kidded and called him 'Starmichael,' he could sublimate his ego to get done what was needed to be done....He would say what he thought, and you could disagree with it but you wouldn't cease being a human being and someone with whom he wanted to be in relationship." Washington Post staff writer Paula Span described Carmichael as someone who was rarely hesitant to push his own ideology. Tufts University historian Peniel Joseph credits Ture with expanding the parameters of the civil rights movement, asserting that his black power strategy "didn't disrupt the civil rights movement. It spoke truth to power to what so many millions of young people were feeling. It actually cast a light on people who were in prisons, people who were welfare rights activists, tenants' rights activists, and also in the international arena." Tavis Smiley calls Ture "one of the most underappreciated, misunderstood, undervalued personalities this country's ever produced."
Views on Adolf Hitler
Although he stated in his posthumously published memoirs that he had never been anti-semitic, in 1970 Carmichael proclaimed: "I have never admired a white man, but the greatest of them, to my mind, was Hitler." However, Carmichael in the same speech condemned Hitler on moral grounds, Carmichael himself stating:
Adolph Hitler—I'm not putting a judgment on what he did—if you asked me for my judgment morally, I would say it was bad, what he did was wrong, was evil, etc. But I would say he was a genius, nevertheless . . . . You say he's not a genius because he committed bad acts. That's not the question. The question is, he does have genius. Now when we condemn him morally or ethically, we will say, well, he was absolutely wrong, he should be killed, he should be murdered, etc., etc. . . . But if we're judging his genius objectively, we have to admit that the man was a genius. He forced the entire world to fight him. He was fighting America, France, Britain, Russia, Italy once— then they switched sides—all of them at the same time, and whipping them. That's a genius, you cannot deny that.
Views on women
In November 1964 Carmichael made a joking remark in response to a SNCC position paper written by his friends Casey Hayden and Mary E. King on the position of women in the movement. In the course of an irreverent comedy monologue he performed at a party after SNCC's Waveland conference, Carmichael said, "The position of women in the movement is prone." A number of women were offended. In a 2006 The Chronicle of Higher Education article, historian Peniel E. Joseph later wrote:
While the remark was made in jest during a 1964 conference, Carmichael and black-power activists did embrace an aggressive vision of manhood — one centered on black men's ability to deploy authority, punishment, and power. In that, they generally reflected their wider society's blinders about women and politics.
Carmichael's colleague, John Lewis, stated in his autobiography, March, that the comment was a joke, uttered during moment when Carmichael and other SNCC officials were "blowing off steam" following the adjournment of a meeting at a staff retreat in Waveland, Mississippi. When asked about the comment, former SNCC field secretary Casey Hayden stated: "Our paper on the position of women came up, and Stokely in his hipster rap comedic way joked that 'the proper position of women in SNCC is prone'. I laughed, he laughed, we all laughed. Stokely was a friend of mine." In her memoir, Mary E. King wrote that Carmichael was "poking fun at his own attitudes" and that "Casey and I felt, and continue to feel, that Stokely was one of the most responsive men at the time that our anonymous paper appeared in 1964."
Carmichael appointed several women to posts as project directors during his tenure as chairman of SNCC; by the latter half of the 1960s (considered to be the "Black Power era"), more women were in charge of SNCC projects than during the first half.
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Even as he was holding the line in front of Peoples, several young men were inside the pharmacy ransacking it...
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- SNCC Digital Gateway: Stokely Carmichael, Documentary website created by the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University, telling the story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee & grassroots organizing from the inside-out
- Stokely Carmichael on IMDb
- Stokely Carmichael at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
- Stokely Carmichael
- Stokely Carmichael page. Stokely Carmichael spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington, on April 19, 1967. Audio and slideshow. Retrieved May 3, 2005.
- Stokely Carmichael FBI Records - Stokely Carmichael records at FBI's The Vault Project.
- Stokely Carmichael-Lorna D. Smith Collection, 1964–1972 (5 linear ft.) is housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University Libraries
- Montgomey Interview video at The Jack Rabin Collection of Alabama Civil Rights and Southern Activists 
- Kwame Ture on Zionism
- February 17, 1968 on PBS.org
- Consciousness and Unconsciousness
- With H. Rap Brown, Oakland, 1968 (longer version of PBS clip)
- From Protest to Resistance: A Critical Look at the New Left. A 1968 TV movie with interviews and footage of Carmichael's speeches, made by Saul Landau
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- University of Nebraska Omaha, 1993